By Sara Century
Content Warning: There is very intense violence that occurs in this issue that is under discussion in this piece.
As of the opening of issue three, Shiloh has become obsessed with a rival stuntman called Baron Bedlam, spending his time rewatching the Baron’s stunts again and again, and ranting to what is apparently his supporting cast: Zz and Jonelle. This is the first we’ve seen of Jonelle, who is Shiloh’s wife or girlfriend. She quickly mentions that she was away in Paris for the first two issues of the series, but neither Shiloh nor any of the other characters ever brought her up, so I had to flip around to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I hadn’t! She really did just show up completely out of nowhere.
Meanwhile Shiloh’s manager… roommate… best friend, Zz, has become addicted to the inhalable drug Flat. This is given to him by none other than Lashina of the Female Furies, who long-time readers will recognize from her Fourth World days but new readers will be given absolutely no context for. After arguing with Shiloh, Zz leaves with Lashina, and roughly one page later Jonelle is kidnapped and enthralled to Darkseid as well. Jonelle and Zz both appear only as plot devices. If their capture was to successfully raise the personal stakes of the story, we would need more information and more time to get to know them. Here, they appear only to be quickly discarded.
When Shiloh sees that Jonelle, in an unnecessary and problematic aside, has been turned into a sex slave of Baron Bedlam, he attacks Bedlam. This causes him to realize that there are actually hundreds of Bedlams made out of a hard plastic material, which explains the 4-page long mystery of how Bedlam managed to survive his stunts… he didn’t! It just didn’t matter because there were more of him to take his place when he died night after night. This is a cool trick and could have been explored in a really interesting way, but here it more or less passes us by. Bedlam is sparse and his tenure is brief, even as one-dimensional villains go. Once Darkseid starts talking, that’s pretty much the end of Bedlam.
Darkseid attempts to influence Shiloh with the anti-life equation, but fails, because Shiloh is the only person on Earth who is immune. He staggers away but returns to rescue Jonelle, cementing her status as more object than person in the context of the overall story. Shiloh is then captured, then brutally beaten and set on fire. As such, we wrap up this issue with Shiloh castrated and his body mostly covered in burns.
It’s hard to wrap one’s head around this choice. Even if you were attempting to show Shiloh at a physical rock bottom, this is a uniquely brutal route to take, and a bizarrely specific one. It is an intensely questionable direction, even if his injuries only last for an issue or so. The pages where masked white men beat Shiloh with baseball bats and douse him in kerosene are incredibly hard to read, and it’s somewhat unfathomable that it appears in a mainstream superhero comic with no warning of the exceptionally graphic content. The fact that the violence we see here has a long echo in history gives the story a much more upsetting tone than was even remotely necessary to include here.
Though some will always make the case that showing this kind of violence against a marginalized person in a story might have the intention of drawing attention to its real world counterpoints, this instance occurs as a more or less throwaway moment that will only impact the series briefly. It implies a lack of regard for Shiloh, an extreme punishment for him that would likely not have been visited upon a more prominent or white character, and a complete disregard for the emotional state of people reading the story. Seemingly carelessly including a scene that shows an act essentially identical to a hate crime with no commentary is a grave misstep.
Themes of Black bodies being treated as disposable permeate fiction in a way that makes it impossible to encapsulate in the course of a single issue critique. Though the sweeping effect of this is impossible to calculate or sum up succinctly, its appearance here distances us even further from truly learning what exactly this story is trying to say. Shiloh from the beginning is throwing his whole body into impossible to survive scenarios, and this is treated as an acceptable defining characteristic.
While it is true that the Baron is treated just as disposable as Shiloh in a way, the two are separated to exist in entirely different categories due to the sheer brutality of Shiloh’s beating. The bleakness of Shiloh’s defeat here was important to convey so that he might rise again in issue four, but there are dozens in not hundreds of ways which this could have handled that wouldn’t entail a Black male character being more or less lynched on panel.
Last issue, Shiloh defined his motivations to be nothing more than the thrill of whether or not he could survive his stunts. This issue, he appears to shift into believing “one man can make a difference,” but this is not an organic shift. Shiloh’s desire to do good and help the New Gods more or less comes out of left field. Overall, Shiloh and the Baron have the same one-dimensional motivations – the only difference being that one works for good and the other for evil. Yet, what good does Shiloh do, and what evil does Bedlam do, and why? The repetitive vagaries derail a deeper examination of the plot or its characters.
When Shiloh finally takes a stand against the obvious manipulators of his story, his body is maimed beyond recognition while Metron shouts random advice to him from the sidelines. As usual, Metron’s advice is about as helpful as something that came out of a fortune cookie. If Shiloh exists to help the New Gods, they certainly don’t do much to help him. Shiloh is played as their pawn, and even his triumphs are just echoes affirming Metron’s philosophies. We have now concluded issue three of the four Shiloh is given, and his character beats remain notably absent.
Seven Soldiers of Victory: Mister Miracle #3
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Freddie Williams II
Colourist: Dave McCaig
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Sara Century is an artist, writer, and filmmaker, among other things. She’s the co-founder of the Queer Spec publishing company and its anthology Decoded Pride as well as being a cohost of the podcast Bitches On Comics. Check her website for more or follow her on Twitter here!